Always on the clock

During pandemic, teachers with children find themselves stretched between professional, familial responsibilities

Taking a ride around their neighborhood,  Telvi Altamirano Cancino and her children enjoy their evening family time. Photo courtesy of Altamirano Cancino

Courtesy of Telvi Altamirano Cancino

Taking a ride around their neighborhood, Telvi Altamirano Cancino and her children enjoy their evening family time. Photo courtesy of Altamirano Cancino

Alice Scott, staff reporter

Zoom class has started. About half of the cameras are on, including yours. 

Of course it’s on. 

The chat’s gone dark during the back and forth battle between BLEND and breakout rooms. A student uses the raise hand icon, you wonder what they could possibly have a question about, because class has barely gotten started. 

Then, almost on cue, your child starts screaming. It’s the afternoon, also known as nap time. But you can’t put her down for a nap. You have to keep teaching.

“I have to be in two mindsets at once.” Kristen Cerame, a 9th grade science teacher said. “It’s managing your work and your responsibilities at the same time. And there are things I have to compromise and things I can’t do right away.”

There’s a time to be strict, there’s a time to try to be the perfect parent that you were before. But right now is not the time.”

— Telvi Altamirano Cancino

Distance learning has brought a number of new insights into the lives of teachers and students, including the unexpected adjustment to just how personal Zoom classes have become. 

With school taking place inside of bedrooms and kitchens instead of inside a traditional classroom, both students and teachers are learning to navigate school inside a location that it was never meant to be held. 

“I’m so used to just focusing on my students, and now I have to focus on my kid too.” Telvi Altamirano Cancino, a McCallum Spanish teacher said. “And I think that [I’m] just being transparent with my class with everything. I’m inside your house, and you’re inside my house. And you know, if my kid appears and I need a minute, then that’s just what it is. And if something is going on at your house where you need a minute, I hope that I have translated to my students that we can step away from the screen. I hope that they know that. That’s just part of distance learning now.”

Teaching has never been the easiest profession. Even without the added pressure of caring for their own children, teachers faced the issue of still bringing material to their students in a creative and meaningful way.

Taking a break together, science teacher Kristen Cerame and her 13-month-old daughter Caylee pose for a photo. Photo courtesy of Kristen Cerame.

“It’s definitely a challenge.” Altamirano Cancino said. “I’m a very interactive teacher. And I’m so used to being face to face and doing activities. I like to do a lot of kinesthetic activities in my class. And I can’t now. So it’s been just trying to figure out how I can move those activities that I’m so used to doing in class into a screen.”

As teachers adapt to an unfamiliar situation, their new job description is a time-consuming balancing act that involves finding a way to manage a classroom while taking care of their own children and teaching their students simultaneously.

“It looks exhausting.” Said Addie Seckar-Martinez, the daughter of McCallum art teacher Jeff Martinez and math teacher Angie Seckar. “They have to make their curriculum all online while also figuring out ways to keep their students engaged.”

“I have no free time.” Cerame said. “It definitely takes a toll on you. But I am very concerned about well-being and mindfulness and so I do get those breaks. And on the weekends, on Saturdays, it’s no computers. It’s my family day. So Saturdays are solely me and my family and our well-being.”

Although the uncomfortable realities of Zoom teaching add to the already full workload that teachers face, they remain committed to their work.

“They are working so hard to make sure students succeed and it’s taking a bit to get comfortable with Zoom and all the technology but I think they have gotten a routine down at this point.” Seckar-Martinez said.

And while their parenting has to take the backseat at times, they still find moments where they can steal the joy of being at home with their children.

There are things I have to compromise and things I can’t do right away.”

— Kristen Cerame

“The success is just spending all this time with her.” Cerame said. “That is amazing. And whether it’s a screaming fit here or there, it’s so nice to be with her all day long. And it is a balance between the times when she’s being a baby with her meltdowns. But then most of the time, she’s wonderful, and it’s just so nice to see her and feed her and hold her and cuddle and get my lovings all day.”

As teachers work to find this balance between work and life, they try to stay positive. 

“I think we have to remind ourselves that this is temporary.” Altamirano Cancino said. “And that this is not the time to be so hard on ourselves as parents. I know I have so many rules as a parent that I have to be okay with breaking during this time. I think trying to be that strict parents that you’re used to being during these times will only cause a lot of stress. It’s temporary; there’s a time to be strict, there’s a time to try to be the perfect parent that you were before. But right now is not the time.”

But teachers are resilient. Reminding themselves that they are strong and this environment is different, but it is not completely unmanageable.